My wedding gown hangs on the rod in the corner of my closet. Although it's sealed in cellophane, the once winter-white dress has lost its luster. After multiple moves and 28 years in cramped quarters, its previously pristine layers of bright lace have turned dingy and dim.
I lovingly looked at that size 6 dress on each of my first few wedding anniversaries and relived a little of one of life's happiest moments. I reminisced about one of the greatest joys of Judaism -- standing under the chuppah and saying, "I am my beloved's." But now that so many years have passed, seeing that gown makes me sigh -- I can't believe I was ever that thin.
A recent trip to the mall, which included trying on bathing suits, was enough to convince me that my girlish figure is gone forever. As a public service, I will never again wear a bikini on the beach.
It's likely that some of today's scrawny brides will eventually face the same situation that strikes many of us in middle age. But if you or the bride-to-be in your life want to avoid a future confrontation in the closet with a wispy wedding gown, do a mitzvah and donate it to charity.
The practice of providing assistance to needy brides has its roots in the Torah. Traditionally, Jewish women in the bride's extended family and in the community have offered support for all aspects of wedding preparation, celebration and the establishment of a new Jewish home. But before the food for the festivities can be prepared and a place for the newlyweds to live can be located, finding a wedding dress for the bride is a top priority.
Hachnassat Kallah in Los Angeles is one of a growing number of organizations that recycles wedding gowns. Founded over seven years ago, the organization's name means "ushering in the bride" in Hebrew.
Hachnassat Kallah's clientele is mostly Orthodox, however, all brides who are in need of financial aid are welcome to borrow dresses completely free of charge. The only stipulation is that the bride must pay for cleaning before the dress is returned. "We are there to help make it easier and less stressful so that they should be able to look forward to this special day in their life with joy and happiness," said Leiba Gottesman, co-president of Hachnassat Kallah. Dresses are displayed in a private showroom run by volunteers, and brides are seen on an appointment-only basis.
Most of Hachnassat Kallah's dresses are acquired through donations. "People have dresses that they won't use again and they would love for other people to be able to use them," Gottesman said. In some cases, however, a bride's particular size may not be in stock. Not to worry, Hachnassat Kallah will purchase the dress elsewhere via donations. "Not everybody is a size 6 or 8, so we have to have other sizes available," Gottesman said.
While wedding dresses can be costly, Hachnassat Kallah realizes that the bride's dress is only the beginning. Inventory also includes dresses for the mother and sisters of the bride. In addition, each newlywed couple receives a package that includes glasses, pots, silverware, linens, a toaster and a Shabbat tablecloth to help them get started in their new home.
Hachnassat Kallah also offers wedding-planning services. Chava Hertz, Hachnassat Kallah's other co-president, owns the Park Plaza Hotel, and she often offers the hotel's catering services at a reduced rate. Prices range from $25-$27 per person and the chuppah and flowers are donated free of charge.
Hachnassat Kallah is able to provide its services because of donations, and they are always looking for dresses. They only ask that the dresses be modest.
My wedding gown has passed the point where it could be of any value to another bride. Now it's a faded reminder of my youth and an incentive to diet.
But if this article has persuaded you to pass your wedding gown on to an organization that can give it a new life, great, I've accomplished my mission. Even though parting with your highly prized possession might be tough, knowing that it can bring so much joy to another bride should make you feel good. And years from now, you can still get a glimpse of how skinny you were on your wedding day by flipping through your photo album.
To donate or borrow wedding dresses, call Marilyn Barber at (323) 937-7982. To donate or borrow dresses for the mother or sisters of the bride, call Dina Walmark at (323) 934-4151.